Boos In The Blender

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If anyone out there still subscribes to the notion NASCAR fixes races Saturday night’s Bristol race ought to convince them otherwise.

Fourteen year veteran Jimmy Spencer was suspended from racing this weekend after his altercation with Kurt Busch after the Michigan race last week. After NASCAR made it’s unpopular decision radio transcripts emerged that showed Busch had purposely run into Spencer at speeds approaching 200 MPH last week attempting to damage Spencer’s car while battling for the lead. Worse yet, audio and video evidence emerged Saturday that show Busch hadn’t run out of gas and coincidentally stopped behind the 7 team’s rig after the race. He drove there, switched off his car and verbally baited his rival in an obscenity laden tirade until Spencer finally shut the punk up. In his pre-race comments an unrepentant and possibly insane Busch went on record as saying he has no respect for Spencer in remarks that surely hinted this feud isn’t over yet intended to enrage his nemesis. NASCAR now looks foolish having suspended the wrong driver. (Despite Bill Weber’s ill-advised attempt at salvaging a little sympathy for Busch with a pre-race tearjerker, but after all the Rubbermaid folks were paying the bills.) No they couldn’t have been pleased by Dirty Kurty’s win Saturday night. Hell, I doubt the kid’s own sponsors wanted him to win Saturday and they were title sponsor of the race. I was half expecting a Coke representative to rush over and hand Busch a Pepsi when he emerged from the car in Victory Lane to avoid the backlash especially since Busch wrecked another popular veteran, Sterling Marlin, during the race.

Other than the repugnancy of the win, Saturday night was a typical Cup race at Bristol, the equivalent of throwing 43 cars into a massive blender and seeing which of them emerged unscathed after the race. 31 of 43 drivers were involved to some degree in on track contact and that number doesn’t include the 97 which also took out the 41 in addition to the 40. (Maybe Busch just has issues with Dodge?) Twenty caution flags, a average of one every 25 laps slowed the proceedings. That’s said to match the record for the most cautions during a Winston Cup race though the 119 laps of caution failed to match the 133 laps run under nineteen separate yellow flag periods at Bristol back in 1991 the year before the track was switched to concrete.

Busch’s saving grace was a flurry of late race cautions. During extended green flag runs it appeared the 29 car of Kevin Harvick was faster but with all those cautions Harvick never really had a shot at reeling in the 97. Had Harvick been able to catch and wreck Busch in those final laps likely petitions would have been circulating to have Kevin declared the patron saint of stock car racing.

For Harvick even second place had to offer some consolation. He ran all three races this weekend. In the truck race Harvick dominated but on the final lap he blew a tire and hit the wall. In Friday night’s Busch race Harvick once again seemed to have a dominant car, but pit strategy spoiled his chances at a win. A poor qualifying effort hampered his chances at a win in the Saturday night race, but Harvick rebounded with a solid second place finish and moved into third place in the points standings.

Jamie McMurray finished third to score his sixth top 10 finish of his official rookie season. Normally that would be pretty respectable for a rookie but McMurray scored top 10 finishes in two of six races he ran in the Cup series in 2002 including that memorable win at Charlotte. Still it seems this team is beginning to show it’s potential as of late with three of those top 10s occurring in the last seven races and several strong runs that didn’t wind up with a good result in the same period.

Matt Kenseth scored yet another top 5 finish to solidify his hold on the championship lead. It was an eventful night for Kenseth who cut down a tire but was saved from falling laps down by a timely caution that flew instantaneously. He also got into the back of title rival Jeff Gordon when Gordon checked up for Kenny Schrader who’d cut down a tire. But the 17 team declined to use a conservative strategy at a race track that has bitten more than one title contender. When Kenseth was fading late in the race the team gambled on a late race stop and he was able to charge from thirteenth to fourth in the waning laps.

Jimmie Johnson’s fifth place finish allowed him to advance two spots in the standings bypassing his owner/teammate Jeff Gordon who fell two spots to fifth. Gordon’s title hopes were already on life support but Saturday night’s race pulled the plug. Dare I mention Gordon’s winless streak is at fifteen races after Bristol? (And to avid a deluge of angry email, yes, Matt Kenseth’s winless streak is now 21 races long. That’s nothing compared to Rusty Wallace who was involved in a hard crash, finished dead last and has now gone 86 races since visiting victory lane except to congratulate his teammate Ryan Newman who has won six of those races.)

Newman suffered through an eventful night that saw him involved in two wrecks in the first half of the race to soldier home a credible sixth, easily his best ever Bristol Cup finish. Prior to Saturday Newman had never finished inside the top 20 at Bristol.

Normally Dale Jarrett finishing seventh at Bristol would be unremarkable. But since the struggling 88 team has only seven top 10 finishes in 24 races run to date this season it counts as a bright spot at least if your favorite color is brown and you wear shorts to work. In one of those trivial bits of information you can only find here Jarrett has now finished seventh in three of the last six races.

Ricky Craven finished eighth to score his first top 10 finish since Pocono in June. After that June race Craven was twelfth in the standings but after his summer of discontent he’s fallen to 21st and even a good finish at Bristol failed to advance Craven in the points chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth ending an up and down evening on the positive side. Earnhardt qualified well, ran strong, then faded. In the final 50 laps he rallied from twentieth to ninth, but unfortunately for his flagging title hopes that was five spots and 22 points behind Matt Kenseth.

Jeremy Mayfield came home tenth to score his first top 10 since Chicago.

43 cars were thrown into the blender at Bristol and in the end Kurt Busch emerged as the winner at a track where he’s beginning to dominate like no one has since Darrell Waltrip in his prime. (And long time fans might recall Waltrip wasn’t the most popular driver in that era.) For Busch the fact that what seemed like the vast majority of the 164,000 plus fans on hand booed his win as lustily as they might have an announcement NASCAR was imposing a five dollar a can surcharge on beer bought into the facility should have served as a wake up call. And while some people might claim the media is to blame, I know it’s his own damn fault.

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